Sheriffs blame WA lawmakers for increase in crime, loss of officers statewide

Two prominent sheriffs in Washington blame state lawmakers for the increase in crime and the dwindling number of police officers to handle it.

Last week, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) released its annual report on crime in 2021. It showed more than a 12% increase in violent crime accompanied by a 4.4% decrease in the number officers statewide in 2021 compared to the year before.

"This the highest numbers of murders recorded since we began collecting this data in 1980," said WASPC Executive Director Steve Strachan.

He said factors contributing to the rise in crime include the pandemic, officers leaving for other jobs, and the failure of state lawmakers to fix a State Supreme Court ruling known as the Blake Decision, which theoretically ended drug possession arrests.

"There was a 60.9% drop in drug offenses and 73.6% fewer arrests related to drug use," said Strachan.

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City officials said staffing with the Seattle Police Department is at its lowest levels in more than 30 years. More than 400 police officers have left since 2019, according to the city.

Now, the Whatcom and Spokane County sheriffs are blaming the Democrat-controlled State House, Senate and Governor Inslee, accusing them of letting crime grow.

"As a result, they have decreased the safety of the community statewide, and it is time they be held accountable," said Ozzie Knezovich, the Republican sheriff of conservative-leaning Spokane County.

He joined Bill Elfo, the sheriff of more liberal-leaning Whatcom County on a Zoom press conference, calling on voters to think twice about who they vote for in the Aug. 2 primary.

All state House and Senate seats are part of the primary election, with the top two candidates moving on to the November general election.

The sheriffs want voters statewide to reflect on the choices state lawmakers made in 2022 and 2021 to make it harder, they say, for officers to catch the bad guys.

"See what irresponsible legislation has done and [voters] demand that the situation be reversed," said Elfo.

They claim legislation passed over the last two years have deterred officers from detaining suspects for question, curtailed vehicle pursuits and a behind-the-scenes lack of support for officers are reasons why the crime rates have increased. All are elements of bill the legislation passed and the governor signed.

"The protests, defunding the police, this has had a deterrent effect on encouraging people that we need to get into law enforcement," Elfo said.

Last week, playing on a political wind shift, Governor Inslee state his position a little late, that he does not support the defunding the police—a movement that started two years earlier.

"This ‘Defund the Police’ movement; I don't agree with it," he said at a press conference on Wednesday. "I don't think it’s the right approach, we need to have an approach that will give us an adequate degree of well-trained, accountable police officers, and we are going to do that in Washington State."

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"It’s time to communicate and look at who we are putting in the Legislature, because these people do not seem to be concerned about your safety, or the safety of the officers that serve you," said Knezovich.